December 21, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Matthew Brown
Some language in German with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1939 in London (with some flashbacks to previous decades), the dramatic film “Freud’s Last Session” (based on the play of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: In this fictional story, world-renowned Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (an atheist) has a meeting with British writer C.S. Lewis (a religious Christian), as they debate about religion and reminisce about their lives.
Culture Audience: “Freud’s Last Session” will appeal primarily to fans of Sigmund Freud, C.S. Lewis and star Anthony Hopkins, but the movie gets bogged down by too many dull scenes that veer far away from the story’s basic premise.
In basic Freudian terms, “Freud’s Last Session” is a lot of id in need of more superego. The movie is full of potential that needed much better guidance. This well-meaning drama about a meeting between atheist Sigmund Freud and religious C.S. Lewis starts with the right concept, but it ultimately goes off the rails with too many flashbacks and subplots.
Directed by Matthew Brown, “Freud’s Last Session” is based on Mark. St. Germain’s play of the same name. St. Germain and Brown and co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “Freud’s Last Session,” which takes primarily place in London, in 1939. “Freud’s Last Session” had its world premiere at the 2023 edition of AFI Fest.
“Freud’s Last Session” begins on September 3, 1939: two days after Nazi German forces have invaded Poland. It’s also the same day that the United Kingdom joined the Allied Forces in World War II. It’s on this particular day that Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (played by Anthony Hopkins) and British writer C.S. Lewis, nicknamed Jack (played by Matthew Goode), have a meeting that is fabricated for this story.
The meeting place is at Sigmund’s home office. Sigmund’s wife is away visiting a cousin, but Sigmund is being looked after by his overly attentive daughter Anna Freud (played by Liv Lisa Fries) and a housekeeper. Sigmund is on the verge of retiring. He also has a secret habit of spiking his drinks with morphine.
Viewers should expect Sigmund and Frank to have some debates about religion and whether or not God exists. And although these debates are somewhat lively, the movie turns into a mushy series of flashbacks where the two men talk about their childhoods and other aspects of their pasts. The movie gives very little insight to the talent that Jack/C.S. has as a writer. Jack/C.S. mentions his friend JRR Tolkien (played by Stephen Campbell Moore), who makes a brief appearance in them movie.
Jack has some trauma because he’s a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s also still emotionally damaged from feeling abandoned and neglected by his widower father, who sent Jack and his older brother Warren (played by Pádraic Delaney) away to boarding school. (Oscar Massey portrays C.S. Lewis at age 9, and Lucas Massey portrays Warren Lewis at age 12.)
Meanwhile, the movie goes off on a tangent about Freud noticing but being somewhat in denial that Anna is a lesbian or queer. Anna’s lover is a colleague named Dorothy Burlingham (played by Jodi Balfour), who works at the same university where Anna is a professor of psychology. Anna’s personal drama gets too much screen time in the movie.
Although the acting performances in “Freud’s Last Session” are good enough, the dialogue is often tedious. A movie about perhaps the world’s most famous psychiatrist fails to delve very far into his psyche (or anyone else’s psyche, for that matter) to offer a fascinating story. And that’s a flaw in this movie that’s too big to overlook.
Sony Pictures Classics will release “Freud’s Last Session” in select U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.